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    New York Times: New Jersey Nearly Sold Secret Data

    The New York Times reports on a disturbing story in New Jersey:

    Files on abused children. Employee evaluations. Tax returns. A list of computer passwords. Names, addresses, birth dates and other information on hundreds of foster children and abused children. And, of course, Social Security numbers.

    The information could hardly have been more sensitive — the raw material of identity theft and invasion of privacy — yet the State of New Jersey was about to turn it over to the highest bidder, the state comptroller, Matthew A. Boxer, reported on Wednesday. After the comptroller’s office reviewed computer equipment that the state was preparing to auction to the public last year, it found that 46 out of 58 hard drives, or 79 percent, still had data on them, much of it confidential.

    Mr. Boxer’s investigation stopped that sale, but it points to the near-certainty that the state had already inadvertently released privileged information on thousands of people. The state sells or gives away hundreds of computers annually at several auctions, and Mr. Boxer said that as far as he knew, no outside agency had looked into the handling of the equipment before his office did. […]

    His report said that one agency had a device that magnetically erased computer drives, but that employees did not like to use it because it was noisy. “I find that offensive,” Mr. Boxer said. p…[

    Thirty-two of the hard drives Mr. Boxer’s team examined held information that should not be made public. Six of the drives had Social Security numbers, including those contained in personnel reviews found in an e-mail archive.

    The computers came from the judiciary branch, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Health and Senior Services, and the Office of Administrative Law. In some cases, no attempt had been made to erase files. In others, investigators were able to recover deleted files using commonly available software.

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